Five alarm fire

chilli legs.jpg

One of the many challenges of being an American, no wait, make that a Californian living in Germany, is the food. This actually isn’t really restricted to Germany, if you’re living out of country at the moment you probably know what I mean. Culture shock is partly about food and part of getting over it and settling in is about finding what foods you can’t live without and discovering what foods you can live with. I complicate this situation by being a semi-vegetarian (1) who does not eat red meat or fowl. I live in Bavaria, and that is the wurst place to live and not eat the meat. I once had an old man declare me a traitor to hot blooded women everywhere for refusing his sausage, “No meat, no real woman!”

But despite what he said, I am a woman who likes it hot. In my mouth (2). On top of the veggie thing, I like my food spicy. I have a Tabasco bottle the size of a half liter of wine in my desk at work and more than 30 different kinds of chilli sauces, powders, pastes and condiments at home.

Germans, however, do not like it hot. If you so much as wave a chilli in the general direction of their food they start to sweat, grab for water and declare “scharf!” (spicy). Whenever we go out for dinner, I always have to order my food extra spicy and give the waiter/ess eye contact and add “really” so that I’ll stand a chance of actually getting what I want. The German palette is so tuned to salty, sweet and sour it’s hard for anyone to believe you can be so different. (I once had to swear to an old lady in the Asian market that I understood that the chillis I was buying were hot and had to toss down the “I come from San Fracisco” creds in order to get her to sell me the damn things.) All this said, I now manage quite well.

It was so refreshing then to go to London and get what I wanted without even having to ask. Two weeks ago we flew there to meet up with my brother and his wife for the last days of their Euro vacation and attend a friend’s 30th birthday party.

(Attention: Travel Tip) For fun we arranged to meet my brother and his wife in a pub in Kensington we’d seen on a previous trip. Turns out this place, the Churchill Arms, has a kick ass Thai menu, all priced at about 6 GBP. I know we’d made the right choice to eat there when my brother, after taking the first bite, turned to me to answer a question. But instead of speaking his eyes welled up with tears and a visible line of red crept up his neck from out of his shirt and disappeared in his hair line. When his forehead beaded up with perspiration and his eyes went bloodshot, I knew we were in the right place… and I was scared to take my first bite. It was delicious, it was hot, it pushed my boundaries and I can’t wait for a chance to go back. I recommend it to one and all.

Yesterday we were reminded that we were back in Germany again. Oliver and I went to GAST, a local gourmet cafeteria style eatery where they cook it all to order. I sat outside to save our table while Oliver went in to order our food, under direction to make mine spicy.

When we were finished a woman came over and, after apologizing for interrupting, asked who had eaten my meal and how was it? She’d been standing next to Oliver in line and had counted the number of chillis the cook had put into my food. She informed me that while I had had five chillis, she had had only one and it was almost too much, so she just had to see for herself that I’d survived and not exploded.

This is another one of those things that makes Germany an interesting (if not always tasty) place to live.

(1) Which means I used to be a ‘real’ one but couldn’t deal with the crazed attention to minute diet details this demanded and couldn’t deal with being covered in bruises from the iron deficiency. Then an old paramour called my bluff one day by offering me freshly caught grilled trout and soon after I discovered sushi and from then on I decided I was a semi-veggie and restricted my diet to food that wasn’t cute (do not start a debate on that point, I do not care about the cuteness of Nemo and the point is moot as he wouldn’t fit in a decent maki roll anyway).

(2) I said to Oliver today, “I may have been miserable without you, but weather-wise I was happiest in San Francisco.” I don’t mind seeing the sun occasionally as long as I don’t have to feel it or sit directly in it.


3 responses to “Five alarm fire

  1. Ooooooh, someone who can eat proper HOT Thai food!!! Hehehe, gotta cook together some time then! ;-p

  2. When I ordered “vindaloo” hot in a local Koln Indian establishment a few weeks back, the waiter smiled and repeated my order. I confirmed I wanted it hot. What arrived was mildy spicey but certainly not hot and when I brought this to the waiter’s attention he assured me that next time it would be really hot – it was as if I had to prove to the cook that I could take it – that I sincerely wanted it hot. More anon…

  3. Funny, I’ve had a similar experience with an Indian place here. I had to build up their trust before they would lay on the spice. It took about three visits…